Exploring Hong Kong with Kids.
In July we spent a three day stop over in Hong Kong. When people talk numbers, I switch off (I like to think it’s because of the dodgy maths teachers I had at school). I knew that we were going to encounter a lot of people, but I don’t think I quite appreciated just how populated a place is where more than 7 million people actually live. For the first time in my life I experienced what it was like to be swept up and carried along in a wave of heaving human bodies. It felt claustrophobic, exciting, interesting and exhausting.
Hong Kong comprises Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, The New Territories and several smaller islands of which Lantau Island is one. We stayed on Hong Kong Island in the Cosmopolitan Hotel. It suited our needs perfectly. We could take the hotel shuttle bus to Central Station and from there take the Metro to anywhere we wanted to go. We made use of all of Hong Kong’s public transport; the metro, the tram, taxis and of course the Star Ferry. It all works pretty efficiently once you get the hang of it.
Three days is really not enough time to experience everything Hong Kong has to offer. With a 9 and 11 year old in tow we decided to follow Eyewitness Travel’s Top 10 Hong Kong. In order to get a feel for the city, we decided to check out the popular sites like the Big Buddha & Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island, The Escalator which is a 792 meter (2598 ft) long escalator which links Central, and So-Ho, the harbour, Hong Kong Park, the street markets, where we only passed through briefly since wrestling with throngs of people is not our ides of fun, and of course the food on offer. We did a lot of walking the streets and I have to say in general the boys handled it very well. Of course we had to stop for refreshments quite often since little bodies don’t have as much staying power as bigger ones and much encouragement to keep going was often needed. It was monsoon season, so not the best of weather to see the Big Buddha or Hong Kong from the Peak, but we had to make do with what time we had.
Of course the food markets were the most interesting to me. Food in supermarkets is ridiculously expensive, however quite affordable and of course much more interesting at the markets. I was struck by how hard people work in this city. I never saw (although I think there might be…) beggars. Everywhere people were busily going about their work either on the side walk eateries, food markets, collecting cardboard for recycling, preparing goldfish for transport, cutting flowers, cleaning; lots of activity just to add to the already frenzied atmosphere.
It’s also quite easy to go gluten-free here. Rice being the staple, there is not much to worry about. Breakfasts at the hotel were an interesting combination of traditional Chinese food i.e. Dim Sum (a type of dumpling) and Congee ( a thin rice porridge) and the typical western fare of cereals, yoghurt, eggs, waffles with syrup (guess what the boys ate), fried sausages, bacon and fruit. I have to mention here that I was struck by some of the Chinese families in the dining room. Those who ate their traditional food of congee, dim sum and fruit were much more slender than those who were tucking into the western breakfast. Just something I observed. Of course we spent a good part of our time munching on delicious dim sum, little soft dumplings made with rice flour, encasing minced pork and shrimp, lots of lightly steamed baby pok choy and sprouted broccoli, steamed rice, rice noodles, shrimps and the list goes on and on. One of the things I think one has to do in Hong Kong and simply not think where the food is coming from or how it was handled. I think if you do, you probably won’t eat a thing. I was struck by the obvious lack of hygiene in the street restaurants (however none of us got sick, although I was grateful that the boys had their vaccinations updated before we travelled), what appeared to me to be a lack of respect for food, especially of animal origin. I think the reason may be because there are just so many people who are all trying to make a living and trying to survive what looked to me to be a hard life. This is of course just my opinion based on a very short observation. Eating and observing was all part of the fun, and although we refrained from eating meat and fish on the streets the vegetable and rice dishes were all delicious. As with all eating in foreign countries, the trick to discovering the best restaurants is to see which ones are full of locals. This is true for Hong Kong too. In a small restaurant, full of local people, we feasted on fish, and the most delicious, cholesterol inducing lemon chicken. The boys loved it and we simply couldn’t get enough.
The other thing about Hong Kong that struck me was that I did not actually see any litter on the streets. For a city with this many people, it is remarkably clean, apart from the public toilets which must rate as one of the worst in the world. However, you can smell the pollution in the air. It is something that follows you around. Not tangible, but somehow you can feel its presence like a ghost. It is only when you leave the island and head towards the airport that you can see the air over the city thick with smog and pollution.
Hong Kong is an interesting place to visit. It can however be very claustrophobic, and certainly my children found it so. On the last day when we had had enough of the humidity and the throngs of people, we headed for a mall and…..to Starbucks. The Mall was not dissimilar to any of the malls in Dubai, but on this particular morning it brought stillness and respite.
I would like to visit Hong Kong again. Next time however, it would be nice to explore some of the outlying islands where life is a little more tranquil. I hope. Can you relate to this?